Nonprofits operate in a crowded digital ecosystem with aggressive marketing tactics and massive advertising spends from the corporate world. It can be tough, as a result, to reach target audiences—especially for membership recruitment. How can nonprofits stand out, build visibility, and drive engagement in a landscape where the average email user sends and receives 122 messages a day?

The answer is simple: do what you already do best by building long-term relationships with the communities and stakeholders that you serve. Rely on your value proposition to stand out and build an emotional rapport with your audience. Communicate your organization’s unique value proposition in a way that sparks interest and action. And of course, be practical: humans need friendly nudges and reminders from time to time. 

For inspiration, we’ve compiled a few ideas a examples. 

 5 Types of Emails Your Association Should Send to Increase Memberships

1)  Tailored, Personalized, Human Invitations

As more visitors spend time on your website, your association will slowly build a repository of data. Using this information, you’ll want to create focused messages around the benefits of joining your association. You can use the following types of data to guide you: 

  • Content consumption patterns
  • Referral paths and traffic sources
  • Time spent on different parts of your site
  • Past engagement, online and in person, with your organization

In addition to using this data, make sure that you send your messages from a real person from your team—not a corporate-like mouthpiece. Your target audiences want to feel like you value their time, attention, and participation with your organization. Remember that you’re connecting with a human being on the other side of the computer screen.

For an example from outside of the nonprofit space, take a look at the following message from HubSpot. It’s customized around specific audience interests and tailored to specific actions that audiences have taken on the site (based on the webpages they’ve viewed and the content they’ve read).

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2) Diverse Options for Joining

One-size-fits-all memberships are a thing of the past. Today’s consumers are looking for highly personalized complements to their lifestyles—nonprofit affiliations are no different.

In addition to featuring clear benefits for joining, nonprofits need to offer several options for membership, to make joining easy for the largest group possible. You’ll want to consider the following: 

  • Payment timings
  • Payment amounts
  • Value offered
  • Perks available

If you’re not sure how to structure these options, your current members are a great resource to leverage. Start by segmenting your member database by demographic and psychographic traits that are relevant to your organization (i.e. household income, cause affiliations, educational interests, etc.). Run a survey and conduct qualitative interviews: you’ll see patterns that are relevant to your messaging.

Your audiences will respond to different incentives. Make sure that your organization’s are fully defined.

As an example, take a look at ProductHunt. The company puts together a curated email newsletter with products and services that its subscribers will find helpful. The company uses social data to piece together its messaging, based on what its subscribers’ connections are upvoting.


3) Content-Driven Newsletters

Time is a valuable asset: audiences may be interested in the cause that you support, but they may not be ready to get involved just yet. Instead, they’ll need a bit of warming up and nurturing. You’ll need to engage with them at multiple touch points—to share stories and educational resources around your mission and vision. It may sound counterintuitive, but you won’t want to push memberships too aggressively here. Instead, you’ll want to focus on building a rapport with your audience. Here are some tips for types of content to share:

  • News and regular updates about your organization
  • Impact reports and stats surrounding the communities that you serve
  • Stories about the people you’ve helped

What’s most important is that you reach audiences with information that they’ll care about and find personally valuable. Over time, you can build a feedback loop between your readers’ content consumption patterns and messaging that they’ll find compelling. You can use personalization technology, for instance, to share news and updates that they care about rather than communicating every last thing that has happened over the past month or quarter.

Take a look at the following email from Inbound.org, which curates relevant content into a regular newsletter. Information comes tailored to specific audience browsing patterns and interests.


4) Renewal Notices

Life gets busy, and memberships can fall through the cracks as a result. You’ll want to make it as easy as possible to automate membership sign-ups and to give your audience a friendly nudge to take action. Email makes this process easier.

Send follow-up reminders when memberships are about to expire, and make renewing as seamless as possible. You can start by filtering your list based on expiration date: contact your members two months out, one month out, and then within a few days.

Be attentive and sensitive to the fact that your audiences are busy. Make sure that ‘next steps’ are easy and clear. By automating the processes and reaching out to audiences ahead of time, you’ll ensure that no member falls through the cracks.

A great example to follow comes from domain registrars. Well ahead of expiration day, these companies reach out to their customers for renewals. Consistency and tactful persistence are key for moving the needle.


5) Opt-Out Surveys

If you’re losing members, you need to figure out why. Email can help you identify pain points and identify improvements to make in your messaging, moving forward. 

Start by running a simple form or email survey to ask members why they’ve decided to leave. You could then use that data to send more personalized follow up emails that ask your former members to come back, while telling them about new features that make them want to join again. 

Last But Not Least

Always thank your members—this small gesture can go a long way. When someone new joins, thank him or her, and drop a reminder of the benefits of the memberships upfront. Find subtle ways to make your audience feel appreciated. Make connections stronger, as a result.

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